Wilco, the towering icon of Americana band, is what you long for when you need a good think and a sad, sad song. Usually enjoyed alone when a contemplative moment is needed, and the people around you suck.
So a show at the end of August on a hot, sweaty night is the perfect setting. They played the intimate MTelus concert hall to a packed-in crowd made up of rational people who don’t like to talk about their emotions. Instead, they sit down with a beer and Wilco.
The crowd included some young folks head banging in the front rows, too, rocking out while getting a woodsy poetry lesson.
Wilco’s stage presence was comforting and welcoming. With the simple, earthy Cruel Country album cover design repurposed as backdrop and rock star rugs laid out, the stage was set for rustic electric vibes. The whole show felt like spending time with gracious guests for an evening of catch-up. It was hard to tell who played ‘guest’ and who was ‘host’ since Jeff Tweedy’s few yet endearing chatty expressions made the crowd feel like VIPs.
They opened loudly with Handshake Drugs and then went full-on country with the relatable I Am My Mother. This set the tone for the evening of seamless back and forth between electric and acoustic and between classics and fresh shiny ditties. Showcasing a fantastic slice from the past almost thirty years of recordings, with new quieter grit from the latest album.
Next up was the title track from the new record, the reflective Cruel Country. Then straight to I Am Trying To Break Your Heart which had everyone singing together. The cocktail of organized, chaotic sounds came off even more uncomfortable than on album. Getting your heart broken is never smooth, and we felt the chafing.
Via Chicago was jaw-dropping. Drummer Glenn Kotche absolutely blindsided us, blowing up the room with the kind of exhilarating energy pulled from the bottom of the soul. The lights flashed and fired, and everyone stood awestruck. It was obvious why she fell in love with the drummer.
This was followed by the teary song At Least That’s What You Said during which eye contact with others was avoided so we could have our emotional breakdowns privately. But being a good friend, Wilco picked everyone up with Story To Tell, followed by Hummingbird, which left them high and happy. Dammit Jeff.
The solo by Nels Cline in Impossible Germany was spellbinding. It was impossible to take your eyes off of his performance. He was so calm, yet the sound wasn’t. It sparked wonderment for the unbounded talent that members of Wilco cultivated over the years.
Towards the end, they performed fan favourite Jesus, Etc. the beloved California Stars, and the hopeful Love Is Everywhere.
At this moment Jeff Tweedy spoke to the hosts/guests and articulated the band’s appreciation for being able to live their lives doing what they truly love. Stirring grateful emotions of being part of it too. Provoking a mindset of graciousness and thankfulness in the teachers, accountants, and mechanics alike in the crowd.
Then the new bouncy twang of Lifetime To Find was savoured, and the main show ended with the fabulously creepy and loud Spiders (Kidsmoke).
As they closed the show, they encouraged the crowd to live in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past or obsess about the future. With a bow, they made their first exit.
It felt almost rude to ask for an encore, to ask for more after they had given so much. But it is a compliment, and Wilco complied because they wanted to give more too.
They gave a bouncy encore of old and new with the very last song, I Got You performed with fierce energy, with Pat Sasone tossing his tambourine to the ground. A statement exhibiting how Wilco expertly blends the storytelling of folk with the showmanship of rock.
Then the longtime friends said goodbye with a nod and a tip of the hat. Emotions ran their course, and the last one left was happiness. The feeling of satisfaction that meaningful reflection and time with good friends bestows. Hearts were not too hard to find. Until next time.
(Due to an unexpected event, the hometown opener Plants and Animals couldn’t be reviewed. Wilco gave them a recommendation during their show, really what else could be better?!)
Substitute – Patricia Hofbauer
Photos – Isabelle Oleksiuk